How to Prevent Groupthink From Ruining Your Business
What is groupthink and how can you protect your business from this potentially devastating phenomenon?
Entrepreneurs and team leaders often devote significant energy into coordinating efforts and fostering a common organizational culture. For the most part, this is a good thing. Making your team members feel like they're part of a cohesive team and setting universal expectations for how people work and behave in your business can lead to greater efficiency and more consistency.
However, if you're trying too hard to create a "hivemind" in your business or if you're too focused on your philosophies and objectives, you could end up suffering from groupthink.
What is groupthink, exactly, and how can you protect your business from this potentially devastating phenomenon?
What is groupthink?
Groupthink refers to a specific phenomenon in which all (or nearly all) of the members of a common group seemingly agree on something, usually in a decision-making context.
Obviously, natural cohesion and agreement can occur. For example, if you have 10 team members in a meeting room, they may all agree on a company policy to mandate wearing seatbelts while driving; it's a safe practice that's relatively uncontroversial and could result in greater employee safety.
The problem comes in when the dynamics of a group begin to influence opinions. This can arise due to a number of different factors, such as intimidation, manipulation, preference falsification and the false consensus effect. It can even happen if these team members spend so much time together in the same environment and with the same priorities that they begin to think similarly.
If everyone on the team feels like they have to agree on a given topic, or if they naturally think in the same ways, it can result in massive problems for your business.
Why is groupthink bad?
What's the big deal? Isn't group agreement a good thing?
Groupthink can result in several problematic outcomes, including:
Strategic blind spots. If everyone thinks the same way, they're all going to ignore the same blind spots, while reinforcing their certainty with a growing consensus. For example, your team members may all agree that investing more into a failed product is the right solution – despite all falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy.
Reduced creativity and innovation. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that groupthink leads to a reduction of creativity and innovation. Truly creative solutions and novel product/solution ideas tend to emerge when people deviate from the norm, rather than conforming to it. If all your team members are trapped in the same mentality, you'll never be able to break out.
Stifling atmospheres. Groupthink can also lead to stifling and uncomfortable work environments. If it seems like everyone is on the same page on a given topic, you may feel like it's not okay to voice your dissent.
Lack of adaptability. Businesses with fixed mindsets are definitively less adaptable. They're less agile and less capable of responding appropriately to new threats and challenges.
Strategies for preventing groupthink
What can your business do to prevent groupthink?
Prioritize diversity. As much as possible, prioritize diversity in your hiring and when assembling team members for collaborative projects. Demographic diversity and diversity of thought will both fill your organization with people who think differently and have different perspectives.
Encourage vocal participation. In all your meetings and collaborative efforts, encourage vocal participation from all members. If meetings typically have one person presenting an idea and the rest silently nodding in agreement, you're doing something wrong.
Entertain all ideas, no matter how bad. Keep an open mindset and encourage your employees to voice their ideas, no matter how poorly thought-out or impractical they might be. When people do present ideas, take them seriously and treat them kindly. This will foster an environment where more people are willing to speak up and share their thoughts.
Welcome criticism and feedback. Some employees fail to address groupthink because they're afraid of what might happen to them if they violate the norm. The solution to this is to create an environment that welcomes criticism and feedback; make employees comfortable sharing their counterpoints.
Reward your brightest innovators. When employees do come up with creative, inventive ideas, make sure you reward them. Not only will this provide positive reinforcement to the people generating the ideas – it will also incentivize other parties to regularly submit their best ideas to the group.
Make use of anonymous employee surveys. Some employees may be uncomfortable deviating from the norm no matter what other measures you have in place. To make sure they still have the ability to voice their perspectives and concerns, make use of anonymous surveys.
In low-stakes contexts and in small doses, groupthink can actually be helpful. But excessive or invasive groupthink could be a death sentence. Learn to recognize groupthink as early as possible and take measures to counter it before it begins to affect your business.
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